Wimbledon Bookfest Review: Alan Johnson

'The Long and Winding Road' with the former Labour minister

The 11th annual Wimbledon BookFest has been bringing the worlds of literature, the arts, popular culture, film and sport to the Big Tent on Wimbledon Common.

There have been almost 100 events taking place from October 5-15, showcasing a diverse range of literary names, local talent, politics, current affairs, sport, film, music, theatre and children’s events. Here Sue Choularton reviews 'Alan Johnson in conversation with Rachel Cooke'.

David Davis will be Prime Minister in January, you heard it here first, or maybe second - if you were at Alan Johnson's Wimbledon Bookfest event tonight.

The Labour former minister told the packed Big Tent on Wimbledon Common that it would be worth making a bet on that scenario. He also revealed that he thinks we won't face another General Election until 2022.

Johnson, whose first job was as a London postman, was in conversation with Observer writer Rachel Cooke on the last day of the 2017 Wimbledon Bookfest.

The third volume in Johnson's memoirs - 'The Long and Winding Road' - takes in his career as a trade union leader and moves onto his time in Parliament, after he was persuaded to stand as MP during a phone call with Tony Blair.

To some extent the avuncular politician was preaching to the converted during the Bookfest's penultimate event. But he did face an awkward question about the Blair Government's stance on Iraq, which he brushed off without quite answering directly.

He was a good conversationalist though, raising a smile with his description of Britain's current Brexit negotiators (Boris Johnson, Dr Liam Fox and David Davis) as 'The Three Stooges'. There was another grin from the audience when he revealed that Blair proclaimed Johnson really "must be working class" because he had three children by the time he'd reached the age of 20.

The mood was lightened further by a handful of double entendres at the expense of the civil servants involved in the running the departments he led as Minister during the Blair years.

On a more serious tone, his pride at helping Hull's fishermen win compensation for their loss of work as a result of the 1970s cod wars came across very clearly, as did his lack of desire to be Labour leader.

There was time for four or five questions as the 85-minute session drew to a close. Perhaps the best came at the end when the self-confessed "mod" was asked to name his all-time favourite album. He didn't hesitate before answering: "Revolver". And, as quick as a shot, this year's Bookfest was winding to a halt and a queue was already forming for Alan Johnson's latest volume to be signed.

By Sue Choularton

See www.wimbledonbookfest.org for complete programme details.

October 15, 2017

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